In what could be seen as a bid to appear less terrifyingly dystopian, Facebook has announced that it will no longer use facial recognition on the social media site.
The ‘face prints’ of more than 1 billion people will be removed from the data banks of the company amid growing concerns that the site has too much power and knowledge over its users.
Facebook, whose parent company recently changed its name to Meta, uses facial recognition to automatically suggest users tag themselves in photos they might be in, but those who have opted into the program will no longer be recognised.
Facebook and Meta have come under increased scrutiny recently for prioritising profit over the need for their user’s safety.
Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen recently leaked a series of documents to The Washington Post detailing Meta’s knowledge of the harms that their companies including Instagram and Facebook cause to users.
In a blog post explaining the decision to drop facial recognition, Facebook’s VP of Artificial Intelligence, Jerome Pesenti wrote that “There are many concerns about the place of facial recognition technology in society.”
However, he appeared to put the onus on governments to regulate its use, rather than companies to do the right thing.
“This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history,” Pesenti said, citing the more than a billion facial profiles the company has gathered.
While Facebook has said that it will be stepping away from the software for now, it did not rule out using it in the future.
“We still see facial recognition technology as a powerful tool, for example, for people needing to verify their identity, or to prevent fraud and impersonation,” Pesenti said.
“We believe facial recognition can help for products like these with privacy, transparency and control in place, so you decide if and how your face is used. We will continue working on these technologies and engaging outside experts”.
The changes will mean that users will no longer be automatically recognised in photos, Facebook Memories, or videos. The site will also not suggest users in photos who could be tagged.
The company noted that its ‘automatic alt text’ service would be altered, which automatically created image descriptions on the site for those who are blind or visually impaired. While the service will still describe images, it will no longer suggest who is in them.
“Every new technology brings with it potential for both benefit and concern, and we want to find the right balance,” Pesenti wrote.
“In the case of facial recognition, its long-term role in society needs to be debated in the open, and among those who will be most impacted by it.
“We will continue engaging in that conversation and working with the civil society groups and regulators who are leading this discussion”.